"The worlds most dangerous idea is that we are not all the same"
We feel privileged and humbled to have co-hosted the third Virgin Unite and Igniting Change Leadership Gathering on Necker Island, with Sir Richard Branson and an incredible group of people to focusing on discussing ‘Doing Business Better’. We would like to share some special words below from Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder and CEO of Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre which Igniting Change has long supported. We threw Kon the challenge of opening the conversation of how business might unlock the potential of asylum seekers and refugees worldwide seeing them as an entrepreneurial opportunity rather than as a burden.
From Kon …
What can one say, the four days on Necker Island had it all. Impassioned and visionary business and community leaders each drawing a line in the sand on injustice and climate change. It was a gathering that was a call to arms for a new leadership, one that could transform the world for the better.
In a setting of such splendor you would have thought it was handcrafted by Greek gods we immersed ourselves in challenging and thought provoking talks on how business can be a force for good. The sheer breadth of speakers and participants was one of the true highlights. Where else would you find an astronaut, the head of the MET, a former President of Costa Rica, a co - founder of SEEK, a Sydney to Hobart winner, former CEO of Puma, Chanteuse Estelle & Sir Richard Branson in the one room, to name but a few?
Astronaut Mark Kelly gave us an insight into true courage under fire be it commanding four shuttles into outer space or tackling the NRA on gun control. Next up were some of the B Team, we had former president of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Figueres spoke of how he had led a green revolution in his nation and now heads up the Carbon Warm Room championing genuine action on climate change. A CEO who transformed a sporting brand into not just a sporting super power in Puma but a transformative leader in ethical, honest and fair business practice in Jochen Zeitz.
A child of South Africa, exiled only to return to pioneer through kaelo life saving action on AIDS to save a generation and inspire a continent was Thabang Skwambane. So inspiring to hear that he had also established 16 drop – in centres to help save the lives of children orphaned by AIDS.
While Tom Campbell, head of the world’s greatest museum in the MET spoke of the power of art to enable all communities to reclaim it’s history and understand it’s present by providing an immersive cultural context. We also had the inspiring tale of Paul Little and Ruth Oakden of how they had using the might of a logistics giant in Toll Holdings to change the lives of over 400 young people by transitioning them from prison to employment at Toll through the Second Step Program.
The participants were yet another highlight, some of Australia’s greatest entrepreneurs & business disruptors from Paul Bassat co – founder of SEEK, Peter Cooper founder & director of one of Australia’s leading fund management companies, Anthony Bell, skipper of a Sydney to Hobart winner, Paul Little who transformed the Toll Group into a company giving young people coming out of prison a second chance, Ryan Trainor an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year to Andrew Ross pioneering New Wavegarden surfing technology to name but a few.
I had the pleasure of witnessing a generation of great women business and entrepreneurial leaders from all facets of public life. From CEO of Igniting Change Jane Tewson who while not there in person was there in spirit and responsible for bringing everyone together and making it all possible. To Jean Oelwang, inspiring leader of Virgin Unite & Estelle who moved us not just with her music but her All of Me Foundation mentoring disadvantaged young people to be future leaders. Suzi Carp lead the weekend as facilitator with great aplomb and I had the honour of listening to amazing women driving a new vision across the arts, philanthropy, social justice and environment in Ruth Oakden, Andrea Brenninkmeijer, Jennifer Smorgon, Kelly Landry, Phoebe Campbell, Maya Handley and Amber Kelleher - Andrews.
I had a wonderful time speaking on the topic of how business could unlock the potential of asylum seekers and refugees. That if we saw refugees as an entrepreneurial opportunity rather than as a burden we could change the whole conversation. That business had the power to enable asylum seekers and refugees to thrive because all they needed was opportunity not welfare. The challenge for business and the B Team was to cost the economic value of refugees potential contribution, bring the knowledge, open the networks, set diversity targets in their business, have a P & L that incorporates human rights and to use their capital to invest in replicable and scalable solutions for refugees. A model that could transform the lives of over 43 million refugees globally.
We had a terrific Q & A with the B team lead by Derek Handley whose thought provoking questions had us all exploring what leadership meant for us all. Jochen summed it up best when he said “as business we have to stop saying everyone else has to change before we change”. With the theme that profit has to be done through integrity and we need business to be first and foremost purpose and not profit driven the recurring themes. We need to elevate values over skills. It was a common theme of a journey of life in business that had brought us all to a crossroads where we found ourselves needing to integrate morality into our business.
Not to mention the whole B Team itself, Virgin Unite and Igniting Change each being the critical catalysts for change. Underpinning it all was the charismatic and visionary Sir Richard Branson, the engine room for it all, driving a new dawn for business with the same creative and groundbreaking flair that has made him such a success in business.
Throw in some Pink Flamingos, baby Lemurs, the pure sun kissed blue beaches of the Caribbean, lunch from boats of sushi while in a swimming pool, dancing on the bar and a piece of heaven in having musical star Estelle perform for us. Yes it was pure mind, heart and soul blowing bliss. I walked away inspired, affirmed, my heart full of hope and my mind overflowing with new ideas of how to work together with business.
A huge thank you to Jane Tewson and Igniting Change for making it possible for me to be part of the gathering at Necker Island along with Virgin Unite and Sir Richard Branson for their generous support too.
There is a well known piece of writing by Emily Perl Kingsley called “Welcome to Holland” where the author draws a parallel between anticipating the arrival of a child and being faced with finding out your child has a disability to planning a holiday to Italy and getting off the plane in Holland.
In it she quotes “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.”
Parents often say that finding out your child is Autistic is more like arriving in Bombay at midnight!
Google “Autism” and you will be bombarded with a barrage of horror stories from families, hear gurus talk of the latest medical wizardry that will “cure”, be charmed by diets and advice from supposed experts and researchers; but the real story was shared at a lunch hosted by Igniting Change at Working Dog Productions in Melbourne last month where founder of Learning for Life, Mary Muirhead introduced “Holland” and the world of Autism to an intimate group of Igniters.
Learning for Life is an organisation that provides Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) to children on the Autism spectrum. ABA is an evidence-based, intensive education therapy for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ABA helps children develop social, academic, self-help and behavioural skills needed to interact with others and to cope with the challenges of everyday life. ABA therapy takes the form of a highly structured program designed to meet the individual requirements of each child, while building the foundations for life-long learning.*
Research has demonstrated that 30-40 hours a week of intensive ABA therapy resulted in 47% of young children with ASD being indistinguishable from their peers …but it comes with a hefty price tag. Some call it the Rolls-Royce of therapy, costing families anywhere from $50-$80K per year, but for 1 in 120 families in Australia faced with few alternatives, it seems the only way to offer your child any hope or way out of their world.
For most families, the out-of-pocket expense simply puts the therapy completely out of reach - currently government only offer families $12K ($6K per anum) towards Autism specific therapies, however the story that was told by an incredibly brave and passionate mother at the lunch, was that thanks to the Learning for Life subsidised model, she was able to hear her five year old son speak for the first time, attend a mainstream school and play with other children … all thanks to ABA.
Learning for Life is truly Igniting Change.
They are giving a lifeline to children and families who at the time in their life where they are not sure how tomorrow will be any better than today, they give children hope and a place in our society.
The Autism story is real. There are many people behind this label and the national impact of this story is only just starting to unfold and be noticed.
The person behind this label for me is my 4-year old, non-verbal, Autistic son, Remy, who can simply just “be” thanks to a Learning for Life ABA program.
Being in that yard with that big strapping horse was so confronting. The first time I approached the horse, I thought I was relaxed but the horse didn’t buy it. I tried again slowly relaxing deeper in myself and things improved – as I put my hand on his head (they feel the energy through the hands) the horse began to chew and lower its head. I was finally able to get to a point the horse trusted, and he fully lowered his head and relaxed. I could feel the difference within me and could then take that feeling with me, and know it as genuine calm. It stayed with me for the day.
That was all in 10 minutes. I’m sure a proper session repeated on a weekly basis would bring incredible results. You can’t pretend to be calm. You can’t pretend to be quietly in control. You have to be, otherwise the horse won’t respond in the desired way.
Horses for Hope is so unique because it uses damaged horses to heal damaged people. The symbiotic process, whereby the horse transforms and learns to trust humans, and the humans transform, learning to feel again; is incredibly powerful.
Colin and his team are so committed and passionate. They love what they do and you walk away wanting to come back for more. And for them to move a bit closer to home.
I never would have thought we would be igniting change by connecting six of our closest supporters with horses and Kinglake bushfire survivors, but that is exactly what we have been doing for the last couple of weeks.
In early July when we heard the tragic news that over seven people had recently suicided in the Kinglake region, we acted. We visited this shattered community and learned more of the ongoing legacy of devastation from the bush fires, and stumbled upon an incredible project called Horses for Hope run by seasoned youth worker, Colin Emonson; a program that has been a lifeline to more than 200 people in Kinglake. Horses for Hope pair together traumatised horses with bush fire survivors and teach them how to heal and trust again together. The results are miraculous and succeed where other attempts seem to have failed.
Unfortunately the funds they were relying on from the Victorian Bushfire Appeal have run out, and we could not believe it when we learnt that they had to close for lack of funding - Jackie was coincidentally visiting on their last day of operation.
So we’ve done what we are best at, which is igniting change by combining extraordinary lives and the program will reopen in August for a minimum of two months. But more funds are desperately needed, and the program still has so much more to give to the people of Kinglake Ranges area.
The images from the bush fires are imprinted on all our memories but when I start to contemplate how bush fire survivors are coping after their lives have been tipped upside down I can’t … as I write this the tears fall down and anger wells up – we all know grieving can go on for years so why is it that Horses for Hope’s funds have been cut when they have over 40 people desperate for their help? As we say in our book Dying to know “grief has no measure” so again why funders should say people should have finished grieving after two years is nonsense.
Click here to take a look at their incredible story
On a daily basis I am inspired by the remarkable people we encounter and work with – they fuel my passion for our meet the people, feel the issues agenda – I challenge anyone who says they love their job more than I do …
Earlier this week, Mike and Mim Bartlett hosted a visit with a difference by generously welcoming fifty friends to meet Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder of Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) - a special thanks to Mariam Issa for her yummy African cooking.
Kon shared real life, depoliticised stories of desperate people, and their lives in and out of detention; of families eager to start over … we felt the issues.
In brief, the ASRC is a holistic one-stop shop for those arriving in Australia seeking asylum as well as for those released from detention. Through their philosophy of information, education, employment they infuse this imposed limbo with hope. Kon and over 750 volunteers provide a place of safety, love and support, but they are now particularly stretched as over 300 asylum seekers move from detention into the community each month – the majority coming to Victoria and most turning up at the ASRC’s doorstep.
This says it better than any words from me …
Recently Mohammed (not his real name) was waiting at the door of ASRC at 9am. He was broke and weary after a 19 hour bus ride from Brisbane. Released from detention ten days earlier, and without food or shelter, his sense of hope had been displaced by one of loss; loss of his family and homeland, loss of the last 20 months of his life in detention. All he knows now is struggle – luckily the ASRC is there to work with him, to fight for his freedom, for an end to his hunger and homelessness.
Today I once again visited this magical place – the Centre was packed with mothers, fathers, elders and toddlers – even though I know each and every one of them is struggling, they all had a broad smile to share. These once healthy, proud people are brought to their knees by authorities that don’t believe them and a system that is deaf to their cries.
It always makes me shed a tear going into the ‘communal larder’; stocked with mostly donated groceries, it is a lifeline to families with no means to feed themselves. It is too close a reminder to my time in Sudan giving out food in the refugee camps … but here we are in Australia … what is going on?
The ASRC are equipping these people with their human rights, teaching them how to stand again on their own two feet and empowering them with education and training. They see each one as valuable and believe that imbued with meaning, purpose and belonging they will rebound, and blossom.
I can see that overseeing this all-embracing service is exhausting Kon. It is an incredible waste of his vast energy and experience to constantly have to chase and secure funding to keep the centre open, thriving and delivering all it needs to.
I too am an immigrant. Melbourne is my adopted home, one of the world’s most liveable multicultural cities, and I just can’t understand why so many asylum seekers are stripped of their dignity, hope and justice. Seventy precent of them have skills that Australia is short of.